People who work on-the-ground are essential to India’s development effort. But how to get these teachers, health workers and so on to work hard when money is tight? This column argues that there are other ways to motivate community workers that aren’t being used to their full potential – and there might be better ways to choose the best workers as well.
Around the world, there are hundreds of thousands of community workers making
up the front line of the development effort. As teachers, health workers, administrators,
and auditors, these workers help to bridge the ‘last mile’ problem in development.
Working with limited technology and scarce resources, they are responsible for actually
providing the services, as well as monitoring and evaluating. It is no exaggeration
to say that, with out them, development would fail to reach some of the most difficult,
remote, and needy places in the world.
India is an epicentre of this reality. Consider, for example, the day-to-day roles
of female community leaders working with an education non-profit such as Pratham.
These project leaders form a core part of many of Pratham’sactivities, enabling the
organisation to serve 19 states across the country. Their work is by no measures
easy or inconsequential. They must convince their families to leave their village
districts and relocate to new corners of their state, entrusting their fate to a
new organisation. As they walk from hamlet to hamlet in India’s mid-summer heat,
Pratham’s project leaders serve as daily role models to community members, providing
constant support that enables change to be catalysed from within. This isn’t a romanticised
view of Indian development – it is the nuts and bolt sof what it takes to administer
India’s social welfare programmes, which are some of the largest in the world. In
aggregate, the numbers in both the government and non-for-profit sectors are staggering.
The Indian government employs 20 million government servants in administrative and
bureaucratic functions (Swami 2012) and it is often cited that India is home to upwards
of three million NGOs, or one NGO for every 400 people (Shukla 2010).
Despite their critical role, little is really understood about what motivates
these community-based workers. Identifying what drives them (rather than assuming
their motivation is immeasurable or unchangeable) could ultimately transform service
delivery to the poor – in India and around the world.
All about the money?
Providing attractive financial incentives for these workers and in particular,
offering pay-for-performance schemes, may improve the quality of service provision
by increasing the effort of workers. For example, evidence suggests that modest
bonuses based on improvements in student test scores led to better outcomes in government
schools in rural Andhra Pradesh (Muralidharan and Sundararaman 2009). Often, however,
the opportunity to successfully implement this type of variable financial remuneration
in India is limited; entrenched political attitudes and administrative constraints make
the adoption of pay-for-performance in the country’s civil service and not-for-profit
sector possible only with unyielding effort and patience.
Even if financial incentives could be implemented more easily in India, it is
not certain that they would always be the most effective mechanism for motivating
behaviour that has a social benefit rather than a private one. In the case of the teachers
in Andhra Pradesh, for example, pay-for-performance incentives were successful but
they were not evaluated against non-financial rewards.
In a recent field experiment(Ashraf et al. 2012), my colleagues and I sought to
identify the type of incentive that would best motivate hairdressers in Zambia to
sell female condoms to their customers. Hairdressers who were offered
non-financial incentives –in the form of a publicly visible thermometer
that displayed a star for each female condom sold,and linked the stars to the social
impact of preventing HIV– sold twice as many condoms as hairdressers who were offered
financial incentives. Moreover, the study found that financial incentives, which
were necessarily small, had no impact on sales above the level attained by members
of a volunteer group, who were given no reward for selling.
Our results suggest that there is tremendous unexplored potential in non-financial
incentives. Community recognition or public expressions of gratitude, reflections
or reminders that help us remember the purposeful nature of our work, and social competition are all non-financial
incentives that could have a serious role to play in alleviating problems that plague
Indian public service delivery to the poor –across health, education, access to
finance, and infrastructure.
The internal barometers for action within each of us –
a confluence of our sense of justice,morality, purpose, and enjoyment – comprise
our intrinsic motivation. When our internal motivation seeks to positively impact
our community, we possess an asset I call ‘altruistic capital’. A key contribution
of our study with hairdressers was that our design enabled us to decipher whether
the non-financial incentives brought out people’s intrinsic motivation for contributing
to the fight against HIV.
Motivation was measured in several ways, including by hairdressers’ responses
to a contextualised game where
they were given money and asked how much they would like to donate to a well-known
charity providing care to HIV patients. By this measure, motivated agents sold nearly
three times as many condoms when presented with non-financial incentives than under
the high financial-reward treatment. This suggests that non-financial incentives
are able to bring out internal motivation. Indeed,altruistic capital,
like all forms of capital, can be nurtured or destroyed by an organisation’s policies.
Our current research builds on these insights and seeks to improve an additional
policy lever – recruitment and selection. We are currently working with the Zambian Ministry
of Health to test the effectiveness of various recruitment and remuneration options
for a new group of civil servants – trained community health workers. In our field
experiment ‘Mission Incentives’
(Ashraf et al. 2012), we measure the impact of recruiting through two very different
messages,which emphasise different types of ‘missions’: ‘serve your community’ versus
‘boost your career’.These
different adverts were randomly assigned to the 48 districts involved in the nation-wide
experiment. The nascent community based civil servants were interviewed and selected
by decentralised ‘selection panels’, consisting of a district officer representing
the Ministry, a Health Centre worker, and three community members.Emerging results
on the impact of selection suggest these different types of messages affected both the
types of individuals that applied and their subsequent performance, and the emphasis
of the selection panels, changing whose voices on the committee had more weight.
While the debate over the effectiveness of non-financial incentives continues,
the real question is not whether or not they work, but rather when and how. There
is a clear policy implication from our research: governments and organisations can
identify those who are socially motivated, recruit them into pro-social work, and
compensate them in the method best suited to them. Of course, emerging insights from
behavioural economics do not imply that we should take money out of the equation
–rather, they call attention to the fact that we may systematically be ignoring
an opportunity to add yet another valuable factor.
Can it work in India?
Though our experience in Zambia shows much promise, many questions remain to be
answered, particularly for the Indian context,where deeply entrenched norms surrounding
civil service may pose a different opportunity for non-financial incentives. Rather
than lament the inefficiency of a bloated bureaucracy, a better pursuit would be
to use the availability of workers to adapt and test successful non-financial incentives
that researchers have identified in other contexts. In the face of bureaucracy, corruption,
rising inequity, and poor service delivery outcomes (even for proven interventions),
we should focus academic and policy effort on innovation in precisely this area.
To help India achieve greater literacy rates, improved child nutrition, increased
sanitation, and so on, we can benefit from looking deeper at ourselves and treating
ourselves as complex human beings with multiple motivations that drive our behaviour.
Ashraf, N, O Bandiera,
and K Jack (2012), “No margin, no mission? A field experiment on incentives for
pro-social tasks”, Working paper, 21 October.
Ashraf, N., O Bandiera
and S.Lee (2012), “Mission Incentives: Selection and Motivation in Health Worker
Muralidharan and Sundararaman 2009
"Teacher Performance Pay: Experimental Evidence from India" (with VenkateshSundararaman),
Journal of Political Economy, 2011, Vol. 119, No. 1, pp. 39-77
Shukla, A (2010), "First
Official Estimate: An NGO for Every 400 People in India", Indian Express, 7
Swami, P (2012), ‘Figures
Bust Myth India's Bureaucracy Is ‘bloated’’, The Hindu, 30 January.
In Zambia, the salon is a place where women often speak candidly about their personal
lives and hence was considered a potentially effective entry point for conversations
regarding safe sex.
This result holds in aggregate. When examining effects of various incentives on
different sub-groups, small and large financial incentives were shown to be effective
for hairdressers with low socio-economic status. However, even for this group of
hairdressers, non-financial incentives were more effective, by a factor of over
the economics literature, this is called a ‘modified dictator game’ though ironically
it is attempting to measure altruism. Other measures of motivation included if a
stylist’s work motivation was self-reported to be social, if the stylist’s socio-economic
status is low, and if the stylist sells other products in their salon.
the same time, financial incentives did not appear to crowd-out intrinsic motivation.
Large rewards reduced sales in non-motivated agents when compared to the group selling
condoms on a purely volunteer basis yet increased sales in motivated agents, hence
appearing to reinforce intrinsic motivation.
are also testing the effectiveness given different incentives. In this instance,
non-financial incentives include feedback on absolute or relative performance and
displays of gratitude by different members of the community